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original title: Raiders of Ghost City
duration: 3h 45min
tags: 13 CHAPTERS OF GUN-BLAZING THRILLS! (original posters - all caps)
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During the latter stages of the Civil War, a gang of supposed Confederates, headed by Alex Morel (Lionel Atwill), raid all gold shipments destined for Washington from Oro Grande, California. In the first chapter, "Murder By Accident", Captain Steve Clark (Dennis Moore), is recognized as a Union Secret Service agent by Morel's accomplice Trina Dessard (Virginia Christine), and, with his friend Idaho Jones (Joe Sawyer), is ambushed in the baggage car and sent to almost certain death when the car is un-coupled and plunges down the mountainside. Leaping to safety, in order to be around for the next 12 chapters, Idaho and Steve report to Colonel Sewell (Addison Richards) in Oro Grande, and Idaho introduces himself as a Wells Fargo detective to Cathy Haines (Wanda McKay), the Oro Grande company agent. Steve and Idaho learn that the Morel raiders are only posing as Confederates, and their headquarters are at Morel's "Golden Eagle" saloon. In a raid on the hideout, Steve's brother Jim (Gene Garrick) is killed by the gang. The next victim is Confederate Army Captain Clay Randolph (Regis Toomey) who has discovered that Morel is connected with a group of Prussian spies and gives Steve a clue before he dies. The clue leads Steve to a San Francisco dive owned by Abel Rackerby (Charles Wagenheim), who, thinking he has Steve in his power, exposes the ring's activities and operation methods. Aided by the San Francisco Secret Service, Steve escapes and returns to Oro Grande, where in Chapter 13, "Golden Vengeance", he and Idaho round up the spies.
Raiders of Ghost City is a decent western serial that has an interesting premise and the unusual casting of Lionel Atwill as the villain. The plot is set during the last days of the American Civil War where Union Army Captain Steve Clark (Dennis Moore) is dispatched under cover to Oro Grande California to stop a series of gold raids being perpetrated by Confederate Army Captain Clay Randolph (Regis Toomey), who was a West Point student with Clark. What no one knows, not even Randolph, is that the raiders actually work for saloon owner Alex Morel (Lionel Atwill), who is posing as a freelance spy for Randolph. In actuality Morel is a Prussian (ie German) secret agent who is secretly transporting the gold to his own country instead of to the Confederacy, his country wants to buy Alaska from Russia before anyone else knows it's on the market. This is a pretty complicated serial with lots of double crosses between Morel and Randolph and then Morel and his own men, who don't know he is a spy, plus a mystery informant hidden amongst the good guys who lets Morel know everything they do. There are also some great plot twists like the war ending after the half way point of the story and Randolph switching sides because even though he fought against the Union, he is still an American. The action is fast and furious with lots of shoot outs, fist fights and horse back chases. But the real draw is Atwill, who snaps out lines with cultured glee and contempt at every turn, a true high light is his scene where he uncouples a train car with the hero in it so that will slide back down a mountain and crash. He nonchalantly wipes grease off his hands while casually commenting to a fellow conspirator about the unfortunate accident that has just happened to their enemy. Nobody in film was ever cooler.
This film could only be made in 1944 when we learned coincidentally enough when we were fighting Nazi Germany of a secret Prussian plan to steal American gold and then use it as a down payment to pay for Alaska from Russia and gain a foothold in North America. We were assured that at the very end of this serial because it was only through the work done by the secret agents involved here that we even learned Russia was looking to peddle Alaska that the facts never reached the history books. But now we've opened the archives and this serial tells us what dastardly folks the Germans were back when there wasn't even a united Germany.
I have to give credit to the folks at Universal for imagination if nothing else for this fanciful tale. I'm somewhat amazed that this scheme was starting to jell in 1865, you'd think they'd have put the plan in motion during say 1862 when it was still unclear whether we would have two countries. And never mind the firm support that Prussia did give the Union cause diplomatically which is in the history books.
No less than Abraham Lincoln himself assigns Dennis Moore to go west like Errol Flynn did in Virginia City and find out what's going on with these gold shipments being robbed. At the same time Joe Sawyer is assigned to investigate a murder of a Wells Fargo agent who is also leading lady Wanda McKay's dear old dad. Fate teams all three of them together.
The villains are Virginia Christine who is best remembered as Spencer Tracy's housekeeper in Judgment at Nuremberg and Lionel Atwill. At least Atwill could have said that he actually has a western in his film credits. He's a properly elegant saloon owner of a place in California called Oro Grande where all this is taking place. Christine is a saloon singer in the vein of Marlene Dietrich. Both drift in and out of German accents as the serial progresses.
The events of those last days of the Civil War are woven into the plot including the surrender at Appomatox and the assassination of Lincoln. In fact the Prussian agents use the Lincoln assassination as a means of stirring up the Modoc Indians so they can get away with their loot. It seems as though the great white father in Washington was supposed to send them a telegram and the Indians when they didn't get it took it as a Dis and went on the warpath. That also didn't make the history books.
I suppose we should be grateful this wasn't put in and yet another reason given for the Why We Fight series. This has to be seen to be believed.
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